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Thursday, November 14, 2013

Protestants v Catholics; What Goes Unsaid; A Schoolboy's Essay Reminds Me Why I Am Catholic

Source: Artzone
A Facebook friend posted an essay her son had written for homeschool. The essay provides a brief history of the Reformation. It is well written. My friend was proud and she had reason to be. As a teacher I was impressed by the economy and clarity in the boy's writing.

My friend is, herself, a really good writer, and she has a story to tell. I have urged her to write a memoir. If there were any justice in the world, her memoir would find a publisher right quick and it would inspire and entertain many.

Her son's history of the Reformation is one page long. It is four paragraphs. The first sentence: corruption in the Catholic Church. The second sentence: corruption in the Catholic Church. The bulk of the first paragraph: details supporting the claim of corruption in the Catholic Church.

Second paragraph: Martin Luther. A bare bones bio. Third paragraph: the pope excommunicates Martin Luther. Fourth paragraph: Martin Luther translates the Bible and founds the Lutheran Church abrupt and final full stop. Capital T The Capital E End.

I learn a lot from Facebook. Facebook friend Magdalena Paśnikowska told me once that "what is not said is as important as what is said." She said this in the context of a discussion of censorship, including censorship in the old Soviet Empire.

Schoolboys aren't Soviet-grade censors. But schoolboys know where to put that abrupt and final full stop, and to leave the bottom twenty percent of the assignment page completely blank.

After I read this schoolboy's essay three times, I walked to work. My mind could not help but fill in the rest of the page.

Yes, the Catholic Church was corrupt. It was then and it is now.

But there's a bit more to the story of the Reformation.

My guestimate of a key statistic: most Protestants in the world today are Protestant not because of the genuinely admirable desire to address corruption in the Church, but because one of history's most odious figures.

Henry the VIII was a fat – a fifty-two-inch waist – madman who murdered his own wives. Henry VIII wanted to dump his first wife in order to marry his mistress, and the Catholic Church told him not to.

Divorce wasn't about choices and liberation. It was about older, divorced women being reduced to begging social outcasts. The Church wanted men to respect and provide for the women they married even after they lost their youthful glow. Henry didn't want to respect and provide for Catherine because she was barren – certainly no fault of her own.

Historians depict Henry's mistress, Anne Boleyn, as sexually hot, and either a manipulator or a victim of manipulation. Before his passion for Anne, Henry VIII was one of the great champions and defenders of Catholicism, and he still believed in key Catholic tenets after he worked to destroy Catholicism in England and establish Protestantism there. Henry burned, looted, and murdered. In another context, his actions against the Church might be called a genocide.

I often think about converting to Episcopalianism. I like it that women can become priests. And then I catch myself – do I really want to be a member of a church founded by a lustful, hypocritical, murderous, genocidal fatso? Nah.

Returning to the schoolboy's essay on the Reformation. In these four paragraphs of elegant and spare prose, Martin Luther is a courageous reformer. Full stop.

When I think of Martin Luther, I think about his writings on Jews, and the impact of those writings. Wikipedia lists what Luther recommended regarding Jews:

  1. for Jewish synagogues and schools to be burned to the ground, and the remnants buried out of sight;
  2. for houses owned by Jews to be likewise razed, and the owners made to live in agricultural outbuildings;
  3. for their religious writings to be taken away;
  4. for rabbis to be forbidden to preach, and to be executed if they do;
  5. for safe conduct on the roads to be abolished for Jews;
  6. for usury to be prohibited, and for all silver and gold to be removed and "put aside for safekeeping"; and
  7. for the Jewish population to be put to work as agricultural slave laborers (Source) 

The notorious Nazi propaganda film "Jud Suss" quotes Luther, "set fire to their synagogues or schools and bury and cover with dirt whatever will not burn, so that no man will ever again see a stone or cinder of them." "Jud Suss" was routinely screened for Nazis about to go on a raid against Jews.

Not just in relation to Jews, Luther's speech was violent. He insulted people in hateful ways. There is an internet site where one can press an icon in order to be insulted by Martin Luther. (Here)

Luther used much scatological language. That is, he talked about rectums, feces, and outhouses a lot. He said that the Holy Spirit unveiled the Bible to him while he was relieving himself. Luther said he could chase Satan away with his flatulence. When he was near death, Luther said, "I’m like a ripe stool, and the world’s like a gigantic anus, and so we’re about to let go of each other."

The Lutheran Church is not named after God or Christ or Love or Truth. It's named after Martin Luther, an anti-Semitic, hateful man obsessed with feces.

The Reformation, in the schoolboy's essay, is all about reading the Bible in the vernacular and not selling indulgences.

The Reformation was also significantly about war. Kings decided to convert, and their conversions meant that they dragged their people into war. I don't know if anyone has a death toll count, but Wikipedia lists the wars here.

Here's a pretty typical paragraph describing a king's conversion, followed by resistance, followed by imprisonment of Catholics, state confiscation of church property, and the immediate enrichment of the state:

"In 1524, King Christian II converted to Lutheranism and encouraged Lutheran preachers to enter Denmark despite the opposition of the Danish diet … war broke out between Catholic followers of Count Christoph of Oldenburg, and the firmly Lutheran Count Christian of Holstein. After losing his main support in Lübeck, Christoph quickly fell to defeat … Lutheranism was immediately established, the Catholic bishops were imprisoned, and monastic and church lands were soon confiscated to pay for the armies that had brought Christian to power. In Denmark this increased royal revenues by 300%."

Royal arrogance, bloodlust, power, and filthy lucre were as much the appeal of the Reformation as the Bible in the vernacular.

There was another dreadful effect of the Reformation not alluded to in the schoolboy's essay. Historian Lyndal Roper says that the chaos and societal breakdown caused by the Reformation played a big role in the witch craze that took so many lives of innocents, especially older women but men, too.

The Protestant obsession with conquering corruption lead to a different form of madness and sin than that found in the Vatican. While popes certainly had ermines, wine, and mistresses, Protestants went too far in the other direction. Their push for purity created corrupt societies like that critiqued in Nathaniel Hawthorne's "The Scarlet Letter." This is why the word "puritanical" is not a compliment.

There's another thing left unsaid in that history of the Reformation. During that century, that the Catholic Church was so very corrupt, Catholicism gave us spiritual giants like Thomas More, Desiderius Erasmus, Bartolome de las Casas, Francis Xavier, Teresa of Avila, Paulo Miki, Ignatius Loyola, Rose of Lima, Juan Diego and Margaret Clitherow. No history of Christianity would be complete withouty of those names. These are the fruits of the admittedly corrupt Catholic Church.

Don't get me wrong. I also dislike corruption. I think most sane, mainstream Catholics think that selling indulgences and not translating the Bible into the vernacular were mistakes. Reform is good. It is often a vexed debate whether to get along and go along, or throw the baby out with the bathwater. Had I lived in those times, I would have been as confused as I am now.

I just wish that my Protestant friends would fill out that bottom twenty percent of the page that is left blank. I just wish that as they celebrate Luther and the Reformation, that they acknowledged important and obvious facts about who Luther was and what the full, very heavy cost of the Reformation was.

I wish that Protestants would acknowledge that the urge for perfection is itself a sin that kills and maims. We are human. We will never be perfect. We will never be part of non-corrupt institutions. Every Protestant church is every bit as corrupt as the Catholic Church.

The push for purity is itself a sin. It drives us to obsess on flaws and miss the larger picture. Rose of Lima managed to do the amazing amount of the good that she did in spite of the flaws in the church.

Yes, I admire Luther's reform, and all the reformers. I know the Church was corrupt. I think this is all very complex. If nothing else, I would have liked to have seen that sentence on the bottom, blank, twenty percent of the page: "this is all very complex."

I also wish that Protestants would get over their prejudices against Catholics. I've been Catholic all my life and I've never heard a single Catholic talk about Protestants the way that Protestants routinely slander and obsess on us. This is NOT a comment about my Facebook friend's son's essay. It's a comment about the Catholic-bashing I often encounter among Protestants, in real life and on the web.

In other news: a Facebook friend posted a link to a blog post by Walid Shoebat. Apparently Mr. Shoebat is also tired of Catholic bashing among protestants. That blog post is entitled "Them 'Damned' Catholics" and you can access it here.

Anti Catholic Jack Chick pamphlet 
Many Protestants refer to the Catholic Church as the "Whore of Babylon" 


  1. Which is why though I am no longer a Catholic, I am not a Protestant. In 1914 the nations of Christendom turned on each other in a war so savage it was called a world war - and they slaughtered each other by the million.

    Protestant turned on Protestant and Catholic turned on Catholic.

    Yet Jesus said that the identifying mark of his true followers would be the love they had for each other. John 13:35: "By this all will know that you are my disciples, if you have love among yourselves.”

    Revelation 18:3 says, of Babylon the Great: "For because of the wine of the anger of her fornication all the nations have fallen [victim], and the kings of the earth committed fornication with her, and the traveling merchants of the earth became rich due to the power of her shameless luxury.”

    Revelation 18:21-24 says: “And a strong angel lifted up a stone like a great millstone and hurled it into the sea, saying: ‘Thus with a swift pitch will Babylon the great city be hurled down, and she will never be found again. And the sound of singers who accompany themselves on the harp and of musicians and of flutists and of trumpeters will never be heard in you again, and no craftsman of any trade will ever be found in you again, and no sound of a millstone will ever be heard in you again, and no light of a lamp will ever shine in you again, and no voice of a bridegroom and of a bride will ever be heard in you again; because your traveling merchants were the top-ranking men of the earth, for by your spiritistic practice all the nations were misled. Yes, in her was found the blood of prophets and of holy ones and of all those who have been slaughtered on the earth.’”

    She, Babylon the Great, the whore of Babylon, has misled" all the nations" -all nations have "fallen victim" to her, and so she is responsible for all those who have been slaughtered on the earth.

    Isn't this the world empire of false religion - religion that has not taught its people Bible truth, and has not taught them to live peaceably with one another?

  2. Here’s hoping that your friend’s son doesn’t read this, Danusha. You really spanked him.


    You brought up several controversial issues, e.g., the role of Luther’s writings in the development of genocidal anti-Semitism in Germany. My knowledge of this man’s writings is superficial, so I cannot enter the fray. You? Do you think that they played a role in what happened later?

    And go easy on them kids! When I was in high school, I, heartbroken over Tom Joad’s separation from Ma in “The Grapes of Wrath” and over Ona’s death in “The Jungle,” became a communist for two whole days during which I wrote an essay about . . . no, it’s too embarrassing.

    1. Liron I wish he would read it. I mentioned on my friend's facebook page that I responded in a blog post, and I got no reply, so I'm guessing that there is no interest.

      Liron, as ever, you say the really smart thing. Did Luther's writings play a role in the development of genocidal antisemitism?

      Some argue that there would have been no Holocaust without the preceding two thousand years of Christianity.

      I think that's one of the dumbest, most exploitative, and most cowardly things one can say.

      Look at Rwanda. Look at Cambodia. Look at the Ukrainian famine. Look at Milgrim's and Zimbardo's research. Look at Jane Elliott's brown eyes / blue eyes experiment.

      We humans don't need two thousand years to learn how to commit genocide.

      The antisemitism that informed the Holocaust was developed in the nineteenth century, partly in the US. It was informed by Social Darwinism. Nazis themselves said as much. Richard Weikart's book "Hitler's Ethic" proves this point beyond a shadow of a doubt.

      BUT it is also true that Nazis used Luther in Jud Suss, and Jud Suss was a very successful Nazi propaganda film. So Nazis themselves were happy to exploit Luther.

      but I sincerely doubt that there was an unbroken thread of antisemitism in Germany stretching back to Luther.

      Every group says hideous things about members of other groups. It comes with the territory. We don't act on those sentiments, though.

      Can you share the high school essay here? I'd love to read it.

  3. Luther's point was that we are all human. That includes the Popes, Martin, and the rest of us. So that Luther used scatological humor just shows he's human. He wasn't laying claim to anything more than that. It's salvation through God and not the supposed religious "A-listers" who believe they know better than the Bible.
    The fact that people misuse religion Christian or otherwise makes the point and is a failure of man not religion. I'll save replaying the piece using the Medici's ascension to the Papacy as an example.
    Humans are fallable. Yep.

    So they shouldn't go around thinking they speak for God.

    The connection between Luther and anti-semitism is not fair in the same sense that I think you're picking up what the abusers used to justify their actions. We know how that works.
    Wagner is widely cited as being the standard bearer for Fascism because his music was used by the Nazi party. He was dead by the time his sister worked with the Nazis to use his music. Was he an anti-smite? Not sure. Not sure. Not sure he deserved the label at all or that he wasn't just a run of the mill hater. Don't be so quick to give credence to stories that are pointless or without support.

    Brand preference aside, religion is about following a path that leads us to do good, be fair, and just while we're here. I hope that in spite of my human failings, that I

    The rest - God Hates Fags! God Bless America! Protestants hate Catholics!
    That's spin. I follow Christ as a Lutheran, not Martin Luther and certainly not Henry the Eighth. The Apostles, the Popes, Mary, Joseph, Martin Luther ... people -one and all and not one deserving of veneration. Please note: "In my mind".
    It's arrogant to think that I know the mind of God.

    My point is that we're human, given to failure and sin in spite of our best intentions to do good. Luther saw that. He did something about it. He was a good man as was Thomas More. People live and die by the rules that make sense to them. The Catholic church became too political and Martin reacted in order to save the Church. The word of God, not the organization.

    Erasmus ....not so crazy about. I heard he invented putting a flaming bag of dog feces on someones door, knocking and running away.... :>}
    I believe Martin was his first victim but I may be mistaken on that point. I haven't had my coffee yet.


    1. Otto, I know you are a big fan of Luther. Would you like to write a blog entry telling us why? I'd be honored to post it.

  4. That essay, which I will most certainly NOT post here, argued that sharecroppers like Ma Joad are saints, that meatpackers like Jurgis Rudkus are the salt of the earth, and that WASPs really do suck. Workingmen of all countries unite! The end.

    I wrote that essay 20 years ago and would have forgotten all about it if not for my mother, who does not apply her “If you haven’t worn it or used it in over a year, it goes to charity” to anything with my name on it. My mother grew up in poverty, has only a 10th grade education, and thinks her children are hot shit for having graduated from college. Her awe of higher education prevents her from throwing out the box in which she stored my high school and college drivel. I went through this box during my last visit to LA. It was a sobering experience.

    RE: Luther

    I’ve encountered the “Christianity was responsible for the Holocaust” argument before and reject it completely. The question, above, referred to Luther’s writings on Jews, e.g., “The Jews and Their Lies,” all of which say more about Martin Luther the man than about Christianity. To me, “Martin Luther” is not synonymous with “Christianity.”

    But . . . he was an enormously influential theologian, and I do sometimes wonder if books like “The Jews and Their Lies,” or if Passion Plays like the one staged in Oberammergau in 1934, made it possible for some believing Christians to tolerate Nazism.

    But . . . bad people (and I hope I’m not offending anyone here by calling him that) can do good things—and he did some good things.

    Otto Gross: In 2001, conductor Daniel Barenboim decided to defy Israel’s informal ban on Wagner’s music by performing one of his pieces at the Israel Festival. A group of incensed Holocaust survivors disrupted the performance, and what ensued was a 45-minute shouting match that left the Israelis in the audience and the Germans in the orchestra in disbelief: “Barenboim, your mother was Magda Goebbels!” “Amalek go home!” etc.

    Unperturbed, Barenboim came back the following year; this time, the anti-Wagner crowd armed themselves with the rattles given to children for the Purim synagogue service, which the tots shake every time the name “Haman” is mentioned. Desiring to blot out the music of Wagner as one blots out the name of Haman, these grown men and women timed their reaction perfectly, waiting several minutes into the piece before letting the conductor know exactly what they thought of Wagner’s music. Outrageous and highly entertaining.


    1. Liron I love your essay and I love your mother. I was thinking the same things back in the day. "The Jungle" moved me deeply.

      I never really grokked The Grapes of Wrath, though. If I remember correctly, early on in the book. Steinbeck describes grandpa scratching his balls, and I was so put off by that I couldn't get into the book.

    2. Liron, about the bigger question of the Passion Play, Luther, and motivation for the Nazis.

      I don't buy it, unless I see data supporting it, and I have not. It may exist and I may have just missed it.

      We are all steeped in traditional, formulaic hostility to members of other groups, and even our own groups. Blacks are lazy, Jews are cheap, Poles are stupid, Catholics are child molesters, women are whores -- we are all surrounded by endless jokes, songs, ditties, internet images, book illustrations, old wives tales, medical practices, etc, that reinforce these images.

      Do these images inspire or justify behavior? Often, no. Most men who look at porn of women tied up and beaten don't have sex slaves. Most Jews who are aware of images of Jesus boiling in feces don't do bad things to Christians. Most Muslims who hear about unclean kuffar are not in jihad.

      The Nazis themselves justified what they did with reference to Scientific Racism. One excellent example is Himmler's speech at Poznan

      Otto wrote a fine essay about what inspired his dad to become a Nazi. It's entitled "Ripples of Sin." It's online.

      I am very familiar with many jokes that were told to me by friends that depict African Americans as lazy, oversexed, or dirty, and yet I would never use that traditional material as justification for any racist act against an African American.

      There are even opposite examples. You hear of Poles who rescued Jews saying shocking things like, "We knew they were cursed by God and that's why all these bad things happened to them ... so we had to help them."

      I believe it when someone says, "I heard or read this or experienced this or that and that is what motivated my behavior."

  5. I agree. And yes, it’s all very complex.

    I remember Otto Gross’ essay from your other blog. Unlike even the most harrowing photos of Dresden, it got me to feel some compassion for Germans of that period.

    And Danusha: It’s “grampa,” not “grandpa.” And he’s the head of the “fambly.” And he does scratch his balls. But that’s his business, not “yourn.”

    1. Liron, you have no idea how much you warm my heart. As you can see, I don't have many readers, and as you know from last year's cancer diagnosis, I can't hope to ever have many readers, unless, say, I have an affair with Anthony Weiner.

      But that someone of your heart and mind reads anything I write, or anything I post, warms me more than I can say.


      Yes, I too was moved by Otto Gross' piece in a way that nothing else had moved me. It's funny; I knew Otto in real life before I read that piece, and knowing him in-the-flesh did not cause me to feel an ounce of compassion for the Germans, as I guess blog posts like my response to "Das Boot" shows.

      But, yeah, me, too. I was moved by "Ripples of Sin" to feel some compassion for Germans.

      I wish Otto's piece had a wide audience. I wish my writing had a wider audience. I wish I had a magic wand!!!

      Ah, well.

      About Steinbeck. One of my biggest problems when it comes to reading is not just my dyslexia, which headphones, music, and constant infusions of Diet Coke and peanut M&Ms helps me to conquer, but the fact that I am a writer myself. I am always looking at the magician's hands, thinking about what he is palming or deploying to misdirect.

      That mention of grampa's ball scratching was SO obvious to me. I saw the man behind the curtain in a way that took me right out of the text.

      I am NOT a filmmaker so I can see a boom mike in a movie and not be taken out of a movie. But successful author Steinbeck talking about "grampa" ball scratching to make himself a down home Oakie was just so obvious to me.

      I grew up poor and if grampa scratched his balls in the house I grew up in, we would all be repulsed. It's not like poor people are all also chimp like.

      But "The Jungle" totally worked for me. That was also a very obvious, heavy handed book; I could see the writer wheels turn. And they weren't just writerly wheels, they were commie writer wheels. but it worked for me. I think the ethnographic hyper realism is what did it.

  6. Liron/Di: Thanks for the compliments on my piece.

    Di: I will contemplate wroting something on Luther and why he makes sense to me. Now that I've found the L2 - G1 accident folder - blimp accident off the coast of NJ that's part of a real life story I'm writing about for those who don't know me - I'm struggling with figuring out a new unexpected twist in the story. It's a real stumper and I'm now almost always "in" 1942.

    But quickly, if I had to sum it up into an elevator speech, I'd say that Luther shed light on a corrupt,self serving system and set off a way of looking at man relationship with God that makes sense to me. I don't hate Jews, Catholics, Muslims, Hindus, Buddists, atheists, homosexuals, meat-eaters, etc. that are different from me and what I leef is good and right. I believe that the nature of mankind is looking for the right path to God. Goodness for the atheist if you will. We argue over the way to enlightenment.
    The difference between the people who I listed as not hating are also people I can list as not being too crazy about also. The difference between a good and a bad goes back to Ripples.
    It's like that old saying about how you define pornography...and knowing it when you see it. Know and reject facism when you see it. Fight against religious bullies when you see them. Combat stupid racists no matter what.
    Why, because they believe they have insights that hold more water than yours do ( sorry, yourn ).

    We'll add Protestants to the list of things to hate when in the past they foolishly believed that, having fled religious persuasion, it was okay to persecute others.
    I write and fight and throw stones at the religious right over gay marriage for that reason. I have a "No harm, no foul" view point on things and can't find any sin in love.
    I am not hurt by anyone and have not right to judge anyone. I try my best to follow Christ ( and not the institution of the church, Catholic, Protestant, etc ).

    As far as all the silly people who say and do things in the name of the church. Asses one and all, and may God forgive them for their vanity in thinking they speak for God.

    ps: I love anything Steinbeck so Grapes is a definite thumbs up for me. Give it another chance Di. Maybe the audiobook from Libravox or so you don't have to see the word... there are no sounds effects :>}


  7. Anthony Weiner. Wannabe Oakies. Ball scratching. Commies.

    Thanks for the laughs. Spending the day off from work at the eye doctor's. lots f borderline blind children in the waiting room. Needed the laughs.

    God bless you too.

    1. Thanks for letting us know. :-)

      I'm trying to recover from a computer crash. Tiring.

    2. Liron have I invited you to be facebook friends?

  8. I'll find you on fb next time I'm over there.

    I imagine that there are few Danusha Goskas hanging out on fb.